The Better Meat Co – one of 15 companies pitching at Rabobank’s FoodBytes! competition in Chicago last week - makes plant-based proteins that “blend seamlessly into ground meat products” at inclusion rates of 30-50%, and reckons hybrid products could capture a significant chunk of the protein market in the coming years.
The Sacramento-based start-up closed a $1.6m pre-seed round in early 2019 and will soon close its next round, which will “probably be closer to six or seven million dollars,” said co-founder and CEO Paul Shapiro, author of the best seller, ‘Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World.
While on the face of it, a plant-meat combo might seem like the worst of both worlds, alienating meat-enthusiasts and vegans/vegetarians alike, CPG companies and foodservice companies are increasingly open to blended products, claimed Shapiro.
This might be for health reasons (they have less saturated fat and cholesterol and fewer calories); sustainability reasons (they have a lower environmental footprint, and many companies have targets to meet on this front); to tap into new trends (plant-based is hot right now); and culinary reasons (consumers often prefer hybrid products in taste tests); he said.
“First and foremost there’s a cost benefit - for certain products such as beef, we’re cheaper – but there’s also a taste, nutrition and sustainability benefit [as plant-based proteins have a lower environmental footprint].
“For our products, it’s very difficult if not impossible to tell the difference [between the hybrid products and 100% meat products] in blind taste tests, and oftentimes people actually prefer the blended product because it has a better mouthfeel. They are also getting less saturated fat, less cholesterol, and fewer calories.”
A sustainable business model?
But why go for half measures when there are now 100% plant-based products such as the Impossible Burger and the Beyond Burger, which many consumers believe taste just as good as the real thing?
“What we have to bear in mind is that most of the meat sold today is coming from animals and for a long time will come from animals, and we can help the consumer that wants to enjoy less meat but isn’t going to become a vegetarian,” said Shapiro.
Room for the middleman?
While the fact that a company as big as Perdue has chosen to work with Shapiro et al on its first ‘hybrid’ products rather than going directly to plant-based protein suppliers suggests that The Better Meat Co has some value to add, does the startup have some IP or specific expertise that will ensure it won’t be cut out of the loop in future if the blended trend takes off?
“Like most of the food industry we operate around trade secrets, but at the same time we are exploring patents on certain process that we’re utilizing right now,” said Shapiro, who said The Better Meat Co has done the R&D work to combine plant proteins, fibers, fats and flavors in tailored solutions for a variety of products so that meat companies of all sizes and capabilities can find drop-in solutions.
KIDS AND THE PLANT-BASED TREND:
How are parents incorporating plant-based alternatives into their children’s diets? And what are the nutritional implications? Hear from Michele DeKinder-Smith at Linkage Research & Consulting at the 2019 FoodNavigator-USA FOOD FOR KIDS summit in Chicago, November 18-20.